New Xscale powers 'Xbox in a phone'

IDF: Intel has unveiled an upgrade to the Xscale chip as well as details of a significant Pentium M upgrade

The Intel Developer Forum's focus on mobile technology continued on Wednesday with Intel's unveiling of its Bulverde Xscale processor, and the next generation of Centrino chips.

Xscale and the Centrino set of chips, which includes the Pentium M processor, have been two of Intel's highest-profile initiatives in recent months. Both are aimed at upping Intel's profile in the market for mobile devices, one of the few segments that has shown steady growth in a troubled IT industry. Xscale powers embedded devices such as handheld computers and smartphones, while Centrino is tailored for wireless-enabled laptops.

Bulverde is an Xscale processor with Wireless MMX, first announced last year, and two new features -- Quick Capture for video integration and Wireless SpeedStep for power control. A variety of demonstration prototype systems displayed 3D games and sound ported from consoles -- at one point, Intel described the platform as "XBox in a phone" -- as well as full-speed video capture, encoding and decoding at up to four megapixels.

The whole system will run with the same battery life as existing voice-only phones, according to Intel, with the SpeedStep management providing up to 50 percent extra life without any need for changes in existing software. Bulverde-based products will be available next year, said the company.

More soberly, Intel showed the 855GME chipset, the core of the next generation of Centrino products. Combining new power management techniques with a variety of additional interfaces, the chipset -- codenamed Sonoma -- will give better battery life and higher performance, the company claims.

The power maangement techniques include dynamic backlight management, where the graphics engine in the Alviso chip monitors pixel brightness. When the screen as a whole is dark, it dims the backlight and compensates by lightening the actual image and modifying the contrast: saving up to a claimed 25 percent of power consumption under optimum conditions. The memory controller and graphics engine also dynamically adjust themselves for refresh frequencies to minimize power consumption.

ICH6-M, the peripheral and IO controller in Sonoma, will support PCI Express and the new ExpressCard format -- in size, halfway between PC Card and Sony's Memory Stick. It also supports Calexico II, the wireless network adaptor, which has Cisco's CCX and AES (802.11i) security.

Pentium M upgrade
Intel also revealed more information about the Dothan processor, the 90nm Pentium M processor. It has 140 million transistors, many of which do service in a 2MB L2 cache: this minimises memory reads, which are expensive in terms of both power and performance.

The chipset as a whole is designed to use DDR2 RAM, which Intel says has the best power/performance profile, and which will be widely available when Sonoma becomes available in the second half of 2004.